Franciscan Influences: Believing in Goodness of Every Person

Emily Morris Features


Author Emily Morris (back row, on right) with a group of pilgrims at the Eremo delle Carceri in Italy. (Photo courtesy of Emily)

This reflection is part of a series by Holy Name Province’s partners-in-ministry. The previous was written by a volunteer at Boston’s St. Anthony Shrine in June. Here, a former administrator of St. Bonaventure University describes how SBU’s people, as well as participating in two pilgrimages, shaped her faith perspective.

The Academy for Innovative Higher Education Leadership, a program sponsored jointly by Georgetown University and Arizona State University, is designed to help emerging leaders envision the future of higher education and play meaningful roles in its ongoing transformation. As a vice president at St. Bonaventure University, I was honored to be nominated to participate in the academy. During one of the final sessions, as my cohort colleagues and I were contemplating learnings from our yearlong investigation of the applications of design thinking to the challenges and opportunities of our industry, one of my esteemed colleagues responded in answer to a prompt:

“It’s just like Stephen Covey says: We have to seek to understand rather than to be understood.”

I nearly bolted from my seat to proclaim: “St. Francis inspired that statement more than 700 years before Stephen Covey made his first million from it!”

Of course, the entire group of higher education leaders from across the country laughed in good spirit, and I was gratified to have the opportunity to lay claim to that beloved message from the Franciscan Peace Prayer. I later handed over to my colleague a business card-sized version of it that I always carried with me. He seemed sincerely grateful to have it.

Shaping of Franciscan Perspective
This story is emblematic of my continuing enthusiasm for the Franciscan charism. I relish opportunities to share its beauty and wisdom.

Early in my professional career, I worked at a public university with a colleague who I now describe as the best non-religious Catholic I know. Carol was dedicated to her faith. It was her source of strength and grace in good times and bad. She was also the best grammarian I have ever known, a gift she attributed to the nuns at Villa Maria Academy in Erie, Pa. Carol’s aunt was a Franciscan sister whose community was based in Pittsburgh.

More than 10 years after I met Carol, I was offered a job at St. Bonaventure University at a time in my life when I was on a spiritual quest to find a church home. As part of my orientation as a senior university official, my boss, the university president, Sr. Margaret Carney, OSF sent me on the Franciscan Pilgrimage. Fr. Andre Cirino, OFM, and Sr. Ann Bremmer, OSF, were my pilgrimage leaders. The experience was transformational.

That pilgrimage shaped my perspective on the Franciscan charism, most notably: 1) St. Francis was radical in his love for Christ and he brought that radical disposition to every pursuit; 2) St. Bonaventure described the trinity as a reflection of the abundance of God’s love – so abundant that it could not be represented in one entity; and 3) the Franciscan charism regards every life as a gift from God regardless of creed (or any other characteristic we use to profile humans on the planet).

Feeling Blessed by Continued Franciscan Charism
At the conclusion of the pilgrimage, I told the best non-religious Catholic I knew about it and strongly recommended that she and her husband participate the following year. Since he doesn’t like to fly, I accompanied Carol to Italy the next year, and it was during that second pilgrimage experience that I realized I was called to the Catholic faith. Carol served as my sponsor.

The gifts of the charism continued to reveal themselves to me during my service at St. Bonaventure University and they bless my life to this day. The friars at the university and the Mt. Irenaeus Franciscan Mountain Retreat, the distinctively loyal alumni, the kind and curious students and, especially, Sr. Margaret showed me through their words and actions why the Franciscan tradition is truly differentiated from the rest. It is a faith perspective with a singular message that the world needs today – one that we on the marketing side of the house articulated as a unique selling proposition for St. Bonaventure University, and one that is shared by all Franciscans: We believe in the goodness of every person and the ability of every person to do extraordinary things. No, Stephen Covey doesn’t get to claim that one, either.

— Emily Morris served as vice president for university relations at St. Bonaventure University in Western New York from 2007 until spring 2016. The Pennsylvania native is now executive communications director at Kent State University in Ohio.

Related Links